North Fork Big Pine, backpacking to the beautiful turquoise glacier lakes

Big Pine Creek North Fork is a very popular trail in its region. It’s usually fully booked every summer from months before. The trail is famous for taking you through its beautiful glacier lakes with color can be shifting variously from blue to turquoise or green throughout the day depends on how the lighting hit the lakes. The very special gems in this area are Lake 1 to 7, especially Second Lake, which has a stunning view of the Temple Crag and other surrounding peaks in the background.

Lam Tran Lam Tran 5 months ago
North Fork Big Pine, backpacking to the beautiful turquoise glacier lakes

I was lucky to reserve my solo wilderness permit for an overnight trip in this area in early October 2019. It was three days two nights trip as usual and I aim to camp at two different lakes, one of them must be the popular Second Lake.

The night before heading out, I knew it’ll be a long drive to Bishop so I set alarm at 3 a.m. I could only sleep for one and a half hours then woke up even before the alarm went off. I made myself a big tumbler of hot dark coffee (without sugar as always) and head out in the night when everyone else was still on their bed. It took me 7 hours to drive to the Ranger Station to pick up the permit and another hour to get me to the trailhead. Arrived at the trailhead at 11 AM, I decided to take a nap but I can only rest my eyes for fifteen minutes maybe because of the strong coffee and another can of energy drink I consumed on my drive. So I geared up and start to hike in.

The trail to Second Lake was just over 5 miles with around 2,700 ft elevation gain but I was very tired, probably because of the lack of sleep. The first few miles were also very exposed even in early October I sweated out a lot. The last section before reaching the lakes was just switchbacks grinding. After I had First Lake in my sight, I just wanted to camp there for the first night since I was so exhausted. But then I decided to keep climbing up to Second Lake knowing it only 0.5 miles away, meaning with a full pack it’ll take about 30 minutes. And I was happy with my decision to make it to Second Lake. The view was amazing I couldn’t express it in words. I dropped my pack down and walk around to scout for a place to camp. There wasn’t anyone else when I arrived so there were plenty of places to choose for my campsite. I found a great spot over a big cliff that has a panoramic view of the lake, although it could be exposed to wind and sun but I didn’t care. I always favor view over comfy.

I set my tent at 4:40 PM and the sun was still high. I went down to the lake to get some water and got back to my tent feeling so sleepy to be passed out for about 30 minutes under the warm sun and cool breeze. It was a quick nap but it has replenished me greatly.

I still got plenty of time until sunset so I just chill myself out with hot tea and reading from my Kindle. I could hear some echoes of talking voices of a group of other backpackers so I knew I wasn’t alone at all. But I couldn’t see any of them. Maybe they camped in the trees area closer to the lake. So I still have the solitude I need.

After losing the sunlight it became cold quickly. I put on my puffer and made some video sharing about my choice of gear and how I secure my food during the night, to post them on Facebook. The wind calmed down a little bit and the reflection on the water surface looked great. There were so many fishes in the lake but I was never into fishing. I guess I just didn’t have enough patience for this sport.

I cooked my dinner, and again, had hot tea. It was getting colder so hot tea was a great idea. I even had to put on gloves and beanie. I went in my tent to read few more pages of my book and slept for an hour or two then woke up to take a few photos of the night sky and went back to sleep straight to the next morning.

In the early morning, the wind got stronger and stronger, waking me up with a lot of noise in my tent. The gusting wind was around 24 mph and it was really cold. I stayed inside my tent watching the twilight sky. I only got out until the sunlight hit the top peaks of Temple Crag, to repeat my usual routine, took some photos, made coffee and breakfast, then packed up everything ready to hike up for higher lakes.

The hike was easy. It was only a mile and a half with over 600 ft elevation gain. I was a little bit disappointed with Fourth Lake. It doesn’t have a stunning background like Second Lake and the shore was surrounded with a lot of trees. But I knew the night will be very windy according to the weather I already checked before heading out. So this time I choose safety over view. I set up my tent in a very nice leveled ground surrounded by pine trees to protect me from the wind. I even staked out all my guylines to strengthen my tent against the wind.

I finished setting up everything at around 1 PM. The day was still long, I had some snacks for lunch and then began my little side ‘trip’ for adventure, mushroom and tea, if you know you know. It was a smooth and pleasant ride. I went out of the tent and explored all of the little things around my campsite. I was happy and up-mood, enjoyed everything that has occurred to me. It was a great experience.

When the mushroom’s effect was over. I sat inside my tent cooking tea and calmly reading my book, spent my time in solitude until dinner is over. The wind started to pick up stronger and the sky was losing light. I told myself ‘that must be it’ and closed my rain fly doors and stay inside the tent for the rest of the night. It was really cold during the night with temperature went down to just 24 °F, I had to use double pads method, an inflatable pad and a foam pad, to insulate me from the ground. The wind was screaming out loud outside the tent but at least I was warm and safe inside my sleeping bag, reading my book and play some games on my phone until I went to sleep. I didn’t bother to get up for taking night photos knowing the view wasn’t any good compared to last night. I slept soundly until dawn.

I left my thermometer on a rock outside my tent to read to temperature of the night.

The wind was surprisingly calm in the next morning. I got out of my tent, put on puffer jacket and beanie and wandered around my campsite to enjoy the calm relaxing morning until the sun raised over the mountains at the other side of Fourth Lake. I had my last meal in this area with a pot of hot ramen and beef meatball. Then I packed up everything not leaving even a piece of trash and hiked down through Black Lake trail to complete a loop.

On the way down I could saw Second Lake and First Lake from far away for the last time. I was a little sad to part with Second Lake and I told myself I would definitely come back here again although I still have a lot of destinations need to cross off on my list. Would you like to come here on the next trip with me?

Would you prefer to have your bedroom sometimes looks like this in the morning?

North Fork Big Pine Creek
North Fork Big Pine Creek
North Fork Big Pine Creek, California, USA

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